Tripoli, 19 April:
Amnesty International has demanded that NTC act immediately to investigate and prosecute abuses against the Tawergha community of black Libyans after revealing today, Thursday, that another Tawergha man had tortured to death in a Misrata detention centre.
It said the body of 44-year-old Barnous Bous’a had been delivered to his family on 16 April. It was covered with bruises and cuts, including an open wound to the back of the head. Father of two, Barnous Bous’a was a civilian who fled his home in Kararim in western Libya during the armed conflict, settling in Sirte. After his arrest by Misrata militias in October 2011 while fleeing further fighting in Sirte, he was reportedly held at a detention facility under the control of Misrata’s Security Committee, a committee created under the Misrata local council.
“This brutal death highlights the continuing dangers to detainees in the new Libya,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, in a statement.
“How many more victims will die from torture until the authorities realize the gravity of the situation, and deliver on their promises of investigating, prosecuting and putting an end to such crimes?”
Amnesty International says it has documented more than a dozen deaths in custody at the hands of armed militias since September 2011. It claims that torture of suspected Qaddafi loyalists and soldiers has been “widespread”. It notes too that “a high proportion” of the victims were Tawerghans.
“The entire population of the city of Tawergha, some 30,000 people, has suffered abuses at the hands of armed militias in revenge to for their town’s perceived loyalty to the former government, and for crimes some Tawergha are accused of having committed during the siege and shelling of the neighbouring city of Misrata by Qaddafi forces. Militias from Misrata drove out the entire population of Tawergha in August 2011, looting and burning down their homes.”
Since then, it claims, “armed militias from Misrata have been hunting down Tawerghans across Libya, snatching Tawergha men from camps for displaced people, homes, checkpoints and even hospitals. Those abducted are brought back to detention centres in Misrata, where they are routinely tortured, in some cases to death.”
It says that hundreds of Tawerghans are believed to be detained in Misrata and that fresh arrests were reported to it this week.
“At least two Tawergha men have been taken from Tripoli since 12 April: one was arrested shortly after he left an IDP camp and the other was captured near his workplace. Their relatives have not been able to locate their exact whereabouts, but heard that both had been transferred to Misrata. There, they are at serious risk of torture and even death.”
Amnesty International reported that one relative pleaded to it: “We are so afraid for the safety of all Tawerghans once they are taken to Misratah. We cannot bear to hear more bad news…We are not safe anywhere, we can’t leave home, we are trapped. If we go out, we risk arrest too. We can’t even leave and search for our relatives.”
On Monday, Misrata Local Council denied claims that its revolutionaries had tortured some 3,000 prisoners and forced the people of the nearby town of Tawergha to flee because they had supported Qaddafi forces during the Misrata siege last year. The denial followed the announcement that New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had sent a letter to Council and its military leaders leaders saying they could be held criminally responsible for crimes by forces under their command. HRW claimed torture was ongoing.
Misrata deputy council leader Mohamed Al-Jamel added that the treatment of prisoners in Misrata was relatively good at the present time and that they are imprisoned in civil locations. The local council also stated that if there were breaches and violations, then they were committed by individuals, not planned by brigades and it could not be held responsible for such violations.
This drew a stinging response from Amnesty International.
“The leadership in Misrata is turning a blind eye to the mounting evidence of abuses committed at the hands of Misrata militias, arguing that only ‘individual mistakes’ take place,” said Sahraoui. “It is imperative that the NTC now reins in these militias, investigates all abuses and prosecutes those responsible — on all sides — in accordance with international law. Only then will Libya begin to turn the page on decades of systematic human rights violations.”
On Wednesday, the Libyan government announced that three prisons in Misrata with some 1,150 prisoners had been handed over to it by the city authorities. The prisoners were said to be all supporters of the former regime. How many of these are from Tawergha is unknown.
Government spokesman Nasser Al-Mana said the Ministry of Justice had been handed the prisons and prisoners and added that the Attorney General was starting its investigations into the detainees in preparation for any future trials. No timescale was given.
Meanwhile, the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice, Khalifa Ashour, revealed over the previous two days ministry officials had been able to account for 2,600 people detained by the thuwar across Libya.